Chapter 1 Brakeston, New York “What about this one?”
Jane glanced at the magazine Lucy was holding up, opened to a picture of a bride standing in a field of daisies. The bride wore a sheath-style dress of ivory silk and a birdcage veil to which was affixed a huge pale yellow gardenia. Not far behind her stood a Holstein cow, gazing at the camera with a disinterested look.
Jane grimaced. “I don’t think I have the upper arms for that,” she said.
“Of course you do,” scoffed Lucy. “Well, with a little work you could.”
Jane ignored her best friend. “Why would a bride go tromping around in a field of cows?” she said irritably. “If there’s any train at all on that dress, she’s going to drag it right through a pile of—”
“It’s one cow,” Lucy said wearily. “And it’s a photo shoot for a fashion magazine, not an article in National Geographic. Get a grip.”
Jane sighed, closing the magazine she was paging through and tossing it onto the pile of them covering the top of the kitchen table. “It’s just that they’re all starting to blur together. Cap sleeves. Bateau necklines. Basque waists. Mermaid this and sweetheart that and princess whatever. It’s maddening.”
Lucy picked up another magazine. “Victorian Bride,” she read, looking at the cover. She glanced at Jane. “Really?”
Jane chewed the nail on her left index finger. “I grabbed everything they had,” she replied. “I think I have wedding sickness.”
Eight months had passed since she’d accepted Walter Fletcher’s marriage proposal. Shortly before the Christmas holidays she had moved into Walter’s house. It was now February, and although Walter was not pressuring her to pick a date for their wedding, another deadline hung over her head like the ominous clouds of an approaching thunderstorm.
Jane had so far avoided telling her fiancé that she was a vampire. Her undead condition was, however, known to Walter’s mother. Miriam Ellenberg, much to Jane’s dismay, had turned out to be even more of a challenge than mothers-in-law generally were: Miriam was a vampire hunter. Not surprisingly, she disapproved of her son’s choice of a girlfriend, and initially had vowed to dispatch Jane at the earliest convenience. However, after Jane rescued Miriam from almost certain death at the hands of a deranged vampire turned book reviewer, a truce had been declared. With one condition: Jane had a year in which to produce a grandchild. Should she fail, all bets were off and Miriam and she would once again be mortal enemies.
In addition to not having planned a wedding, Jane had not become pregnant. She still wasn’t even sure she could conceive, which was in itself no small concern. To make matters worse, Miriam had decided to move from Florida to upstate New York so that she could keep an eye on her daughter-in-law-to-be. Thankfully, Walter had not suggested that his mother move into the house with them. However, he had suggested that Miriam buy Jane’s former home, since Jane would have no more use for it now that she and Walter were living together. As neither Jane nor Miriam—despite both thinking very hard—had been able to come up with a good reason why this course of action should not be taken, a deal had been struck, and the week after Jane moved herself, her pets, and her possessions into Walter’s house, a trio of anxious young men had unloaded Miriam’s belongings from a truck under Miriam’s scrutinizing supervision.
The matter of Jane’s barren state was becoming a greater problem with each passing week. With only four months left in which to become pregnant, she sensed Miriam becoming increasingly impatient. To her credit, Miriam had never once reminded Jane of the looming deadline. She and Jane were cordial enough to each other that Walter had often remarked on how pleased he was that they were getting on so well. Still, Jane knew that she was being watched.
She was not surprised, then, when Miriam made an appearance in the kitchen just moments later. She was dressed in a variation of the peculiar ensemble she’d adopted following the first snowfall of the winter. Unused to cold, she had opted for warmth over fashion, exchanging the lightweight pantsuits that had served her well in Florida’s tropical climate for sturdy corduroy trousers and heavy wool sweaters in Irish fisherman and Norwegian ski patterns. At the moment she was wearing moss-green pants and a cream Aran sweater with a rolled neck. Below the knees her pants were tucked into a pair of brown Wellingtons, and on her head was a black-and-red buffalo plaid hunter’s cap with earflaps and a shearling lining.
“It’s cold enough to freeze a bear’s ass,” she said as she pulled the cap off and sat down. “I need some coffee.”
In addition to her new wardrobe, Miriam had also acquired a collection of sayings generally used only by residents of the New England states. No matter how many times Walter told her that New York—despite its name—was not considered part of New England, Miriam persisted in behaving as if it were, occasionally even taking on an accent that was more Maine lobsterman than Jewish mother of a certain age.
Jane got up and poured Miriam a cup of coffee, thinking that she really needed to start locking the front door. She handed the cup to Miriam, then refilled Lucy’s mug. She herself was drinking hot chocolate. Although her vampire metabolism didn’t require that she eat, she still enjoyed the activity, particularly if it involved sweets.
“Still looking at dresses, I see,” Miriam remarked, nodding at the magazines.
“Yes,” Jane said evenly. “Still looking.”
“I really don’t see what the problem is,” Miriam said. “Choosing a dress shouldn’t be any more difficult than choosing a paint color. Just pick the one that’s going to hide the problem areas the best. Take you, for example. You’ve got a wide—”
“I believe I’ve narrowed it down,” Jane said. “The dress choices,” she clarified as Miriam started to reply.
Miriam peered at her through the steam from the coffee cup. “And have you set a date?” she asked. “Summer’s right around the corner, you know.”
Jane was unsure whether Miriam was referring to the approaching anniversary of their agreement or just remarking on the fact that a summer wedding would be lovely. She chose to believe it was the latter, although Miriam’s tone could be interpreted either way.
“Why don’t you and Walter just elope?” Lucy suggested.
Miriam and Jane both turned their heads to look at her.
“What?” said Lucy, pushing a strand of long curly black hair behind her ear. “It would save a lot of fuss and bother.”
“I thought you were excited about being my maid of honor,” Jane said.
“I am,” Lucy assured her. “I’m just saying, if this is making you so crazy, just get married at the courthouse and go to Tahiti for two weeks or something.”
“That would be nice,” Jane mused. “We could lie on the beach and have fruit drinks.”
“Nonsense,” said Miriam. “You’re going to be married right here so that I—so that all of your friends can join in the celebration.”
Jane looked at Lucy, who rolled her eyes and puffed out her cheeks. “It was just a suggestion,” she muttered.
“Walter’s first wedding was simply perfect,” Miriam informed them. “Evelyn was absolutely stunning.”
And now she’s dead, Jane thought, immediately mortified that such a thing would pop into her head. But it was true. Besides, it was becoming far too common an occurrence for Miriam to compare Jane to Walter’s deceased wife. The week before, when Jane had tried her hand at cooking a brisket because Miriam had mentioned how much she enjoyed one, Miriam’s response was to tell her how Evelyn’s brisket had been so much moister and how she had served small roasted potatoes with it and not mashed.
“Miriam, what kind of dress do you think Jane should wear?” Lucy asked.
Miriam waved a hand at her. “Oh, you know I don’t care. I’m sure whatever she wants is fine.”
Jane felt her fangs click into place. She closed her eyes and concentrated on forcing them to retract. You can’t bite her, she reminded herself.
Miriam raised an eyebrow. “Do you have a headache, Jane?” she asked. “You look tense.”
“I’m fine,” Jane snapped. She opened her eyes. “I’m fine,” she repeated, giving Miriam a tight smile.
She heard the front door open and close. “Jane?” Walter called out. “Where are you?”
“In here,” Jane replied. “With Lucy and your mother.”
Walter came into the kitchen, brushing snow from his navy blue peacoat. “I have great news,” he said as he bent to kiss first his mother and then Jane.
“You got the Thorne-Waxe house job!” Jane said. A restorer of historic houses, Walter had recently been asked to submit a proposal for restoring a run-down Victorian house that had been cut up into four apartments. The new owners wanted to bring it back to its original glory.
“Oh, yes, I did,” said Walter. “But that’s not the big news.” His blue eyes, always sparkling, had an extra twinkle to them.
The three women looked at him. “Well?” Jane said after a long pause.
“I’ve solved our wedding problem,” Walter said, beaming. “Well, not so much the wedding problem, but the honeymoon problem.”
“What do you mean, the honeymoon problem?” Miriam asked.
“Jane and I have been trying to decide where to go on our honeymoon,” Walter explained.
“What honeymoon?” said Miriam. “You haven’t even set a date for the wedding!”
“We’ll figure that out,” Walter said. “The important thing is, I know where we’re going afterward.”
“Tahiti?” said Lucy hopefully.
“Europe,” said Walter.
“Europe is a big place,” Jane reminded him. “Can you narrow it down a bit?”
“That’s the best part,” said Walter. “We don’t have to narrow it down. I’ve been invited to go on a tour of historic houses with the International Association of Historic Preservationists. They’re spending two weeks looking at homes in Ireland, France, Switzerland, Italy, and England. Oh, and Scotland or somewhere. I can’t remember the exact details. Doesn’t it sound fun?”
“How many other people will be going on our honeymoon with us?” Jane inquired.
“I don’t know—two dozen or so, I guess,” said Walter. “But we don’t have to do everything with the group. There’s a lot of free time built into the itinerary. And it’s not really our honeymoon. We can add another week on at the end for just the two of us. Anywhere you want to go.” He looked at the three women, who sat there saying nothing. “Well?”